My name is Johanna, but you can call me JoJo.
The story of addiction is unique for everybody, and yet exactly the same. This is my unique-same story. I was raised in a middle-class home, eldest of three kids, by both parents.
From my earliest memories, alcohol was present in our household, especially at celebrations and events, therefore drinking was normalized ever since I can remember. I did not believe that there was an issue with drinking alcohol multiple times per week, therefore when I began my addiction, it seemed okay.
At age 7, I was sexually molested by a babysitter multiple times in my parents’ bedroom. I was confused and knew it was wrong but I was supposed to trust this person. I had no idea what to do. When I got the courage to tell an adult I trusted, they didn’t believe me and accused me of lying. That day, I learned never to even bring up anything scary or uncomfortable again.
When I was 12, we moved to a larger city, and I found it difficult to make friends. I felt like an outcast. I began using marijuana to numb my feelings of trauma, loneliness, and emptiness. I felt a hole inside of me that I could not fill. Anxiety and depression led to suicidal thoughts.
Then came the voices in my head that kept telling me, “Jojo, You are not good enough. Jojo, no one loves you. Jojo, what is the point in living?” At first, I started to believe them and quickly found drugs to be the easiest way to cope with these thoughts.
I was an A and B student throughout high school, worked hard to please my parents and stayed out of trouble. I drank only a few times since I was active in sports and was afraid of breaking the law. As much as I wanted to follow the rules, I also wanted to fit in and make friends, and that’s when the problem really began.
When I was 16, things started to fall apart. My first encounter with the law was an underage drinking violation at a party at my parents’ house. As a result, I had to attend an alcohol class with my father. All I remember from the class was how ashamed and awful I felt for letting him down.
At that same party, I was raped by a boyfriend in my parents’ bedroom. I did not tell anyone. I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me and I was ashamed of whatever I’d done to deserve it. A second experience with sexual abuse and I had no healthy way to cope.
When I went to college, my chemical use only progressed. I continued to feel that I was not good enough or not achieving enough and depression and anxiety got even deeper. Every day, I drank 8-10 beers, did multiple shots, and smoked marijuana.
I still wanted to make friends and when all social gatherings included alcohol and drugs, I just went along. I thought, “Oh, this is just what you do in college. This will be a phase, I will stop using drugs or I will drink less as I get older.” It seemed rational at the time and only justified my chemical use.
My alcohol use continued and I got my first DUI at age 19. At the time, drinking and driving consequences were minimal — a fine and six months probation.
I then started using other substances: cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD. While I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, my grades fell in my senior year.
I knew I had a problem but I was in denial. On my 23rd birthday, I was extremely intoxicated, sitting on my friend’s kitchen floor, literally crying out for help, asking if they thought I had a drinking problem. They said I didn’t, but they were wrong. I knew, but I couldn’t face it.
After my 2nd DUI at 24, I moved in with my parents, thinking that would help me to stop using hard drugs, and not drink as much. But when I cut out the hard drugs, my drinking only got worse. With no bills to pay, I spent all my money on alcohol.
At 26, I moved out of my parent’s house and into an extremely unhealthy relationship, which also fueled my alcoholism. I was drinking from the time I woke up, until the time I passed out: almost two liters of rum every day.
I had terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations. Every night for eight months, I saw the grim reaper standing at the end of my bed — on the left side, always on the left side. I was ready for it to be over and I prayed that God would take me. I heard ten different voices talking in my head, having conversations with me and each other.
When I experienced abdominal pain, the ER doctor asked if I drank large amounts of alcohol. I was ashamed of my drinking so I lied, but being a medical professional, she knew. She explained that if I continued to consume alcohol at the rate I was going, I wouldn’t live to see the age of 30. After two hours of being hydrated through an IV, I felt amazing, so I got drunk as soon as I got home.
I got my 3rd DUI at age 27 and was sentenced to six months in county jail. Along with the legal consequences, I lost my jobs, my car, my driver’s license, and my apartment. I sat in my kitchen, listening to all the voices in my head, crying, and literally pulling my hair out. I felt like a crazy lady.
I knew that something had to change. I completed a chemical dependency (CD) assessment and followed all the recommendations. I was in residential treatment for six months, halfway house for three months, and outpatient treatment for another three months. I completed all the treatment programs not to get sober, but to avoid jail. But in the third month of my sobriety, I found a new way to live — a better way.
I learned that mental health and chemical dependency go hand-in-hand. Behaviors are fueled by mental states. I knew that in order to maintain sobriety, I had to address all of it: depression, anxiety, trauma from verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse, and my addictive thinking.
For two years I lived in sober living through Progress Valley treatment facility. There, I was able to get and maintain a job and redeveloped life skills. I attended an AA or NA meeting every day, some days more than one. I got a sponsor and worked the steps.
I created my sober network, a community of people who weren’t using and who I could count on. I learned how to have fun sober: going for hikes, golfing, swimming, playing board games, card games, and reading. I rebuilt the life and relationships that I had lost.
Getting sober changed my life and opened my heart. I got my Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor degree and I worked as an addiction counselor from 2016-2018 until I realized I couldn’t pay my bills. Which is sad because I found the job rewarding, as I could offer the same compassion to others as I received early in my recovery.
I’ve been sober since July 18th, 2013, and I just turned 34. I keep learning and growing and my story is far from over. For the last two years, I’ve been looking for different ways to get involved with the sober community. That’s when my cousin Noah asked if I wanted to contribute to resilience2reform. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence.
Share this post